Sonic art composition with application in horticulture
Beta Vulgaris was composed by David Vélez to stimulate the growth of beetroot after his interest in its unique taste, colour, and shape and its superb nutritional and medicinal value. It was played in David’s own small domestic crop of beets and in the garden of a museum in Colombia, and they grew big, beautiful, healthy and delicious.
This project is an invitation to consider urban and domestic agriculture as means to claim political and alimentary autonomy in alliance with beets and their extraordinary nutritional, medicinal and aesthetic potency.
For his research work on the relationship between sound and food, David Velez was awarded PhD in Sound Art in the UK.
Philosopher Michael Marder writes about his extended and close encounters with plants, indicating experiencing time deceleration and losing track of its lapse. He suggests that these changes in time perception help him establish proximity with these organisms. In these close encounters with plant life, Marder perceives that he is together with himself in a way in which he becomes himself otherwise. Here, he ﬁnds himself meditating in silence while experiencing continuity in the streaming realm of sound. Studies show that farming synchronises the body to circadian rhythms which has beneﬁcial eﬀects on our well-being, helping decrease the risk of depression symptoms.
Biologist Edward O. Wilson suggests that the attraction of humans to plants, and other non-human organisms, is connected with millions of years of symbiotic adaptation and genetic coevolution, where every species perceives the others around as collaborators and co-authors of its current genetic development.
Horticulturist Paula Diane Relf acknowledges the positive eﬀects of farming in well-being operating in speciﬁc aspects. She supports that therapeutic farming can operate as an insightful catharsis that stimulates great observation capacity and a greater sense of empathy.
Jeanne McHale is a researcher in physical chemistry who analyses beets to develop sustainable solar energy systems by working with betanin, the component that gives them their unique colour. She studies it to replace photovoltaic cells in solar panels. The toxicity of these cells is the main reason why solar energy is unsustainable. The research of McHale could help alleviate the energy crisis which is one of the leading causes of the current climate crisis.
Betanin stimulates blood ﬂow to the brain and improves certain cognitive functions, as suggested by chemistry researchers Li-June Ming and DM Jonathan Burdette. Ming studies the composition of betanin to slow down the speed at which Alzheimer’s attacks the brain. This disease occurs when the energy reserve accumulated in the brain decreases, and the brain can no longer counteract the detrimental eﬀects of entropy. Considering the ongoing Alzheimer’s epidemic, Ming’s research could beneﬁt millions and save thousands of lives, as revealed by the most recent public health statistics.
David Vélez composed this piece considering beetroot plants as collaborators, hence the need to establish a point of intersubjective acoustic convergence in which he could engage with their perception of sound. For this, David considered theories about the acoustics of plants in botany and agriculture. In his studio, he grew beets while acoustically stimulating them with great results. After three months, they grew healthy, exuberant and exquisite. Later, in the Modern Art Museum in Medellin, the process was replicated with equal success, leading to a culinary workshop on beets. The theories David researched are as follows:
(a) The project Sonic bloom organic farming made easy! by the researcher in agricultural acoustics, Dan Carlson, was crucial in the composition of this piece. His ideas, which David read about in the essay Advances in Eﬀects of Sound Waves on Plants, authored by Rada Hassanien, suggest that plants show a positive reaction to sinusoidal waves above 3,000 Hz. For Carlson, these sounds can accelerate the growth of plants, increase the volume of the harvest, stimulate the development of leaves and ﬂowers, improve resistance to diseases, and increase the reception of nutrients. Sine tones over 3,000 Hz open the stomata in the epidermis of stems and leaves and encourage better absorption of nitrogen, water, and other essential substances, he suggests.
(b) To stimulate the plants, David also examined the paper Plants respond to leaf vibrations caused by insect herbivore chewing, authored by Heidi Appel and Rex Cocroft, whose research suggests that these sounds can strengthen the immune system of plants. Composer decided to recreate them using cooking sounds recorded from beet preparations pursuing proximity, textures, movement and detail.
(c) Axel Michelsen studies the relation between insects, plants and sound and suggests that some insect species use vegetables as acoustic transducers to amplify their sounds. The sounds made by insects are often imperceptible hence the need to use plants to amplify them.
Released December 2, 2022
Special thanks to the participating beets in Huddersﬁeld and Medellin, Elena Villamil, Taras Opanasiuk, Jorge Barco, MAMM and Lina Velandia.
David Vélez: sine tones, Foley and research
Mastered by Rafał Sądej
Sleeve by Rutger Zuydervelt